Grow it high, or slash it back? Steve Carroll and Alex Perry lock horns on how much punishment we should face for failing to find a fairway

With the sight of the mower came a sigh of relief. It’s been perfect conditions for rough this year – a wet spring followed by a sudden burst of heat – and some of us will have been counting the cost.

I’ve certainly had to press the reload button, and file forlornly to the pro shop for more ammunition, on plenty of occasions this year after tangling with the thickest stuff and being unable to come out with my ball.

We’re not professionals so should we be subject to the worst grass has to offer when we’re not skilled enough to extricate ourselves?

Or is suitably being punished for not keeping our ball on or around the fairway an intrinsic part of the challenge of golf?

As usual, I’ve asked my colleague Alex Perry to dive right into the knee high fescue.

‘Tough rough isn’t tough love – it’s just misery’

‘Narrow fairways bordered by long grass make bad golfers’, that’s not me getting in some early excuses, writes Steve Carroll. That’s Alister MacKenzie – he of Augusta National fame. Some might say he knew a thing or two about golf.

This is a tricky one because we all understand you shouldn’t just be able to hit it anywhere. That our sport is hard is part of the fun and the challenge.

But tough rough isn’t tough love. It’s just misery. It’s miserable because no one likes to hand over a load of balls to the course – they’re not cheap – and it’s miserable because it slows everything down.

One begets the other. Balls are expensive, players don’t want to let them go, and then we spend ages trooping around trying to locate them. All of which slows down pace of play.

The R&A, in their Pace of Play manual, advocated extending the width of the first cut so balls that land on the fairway were less likely to reach the worst stuff, and gradually reducing its severity so, while it still provided a challenge, it was less likely to assist your ball in playing hide and seek. I tend to agree with these solutions.

I’m not suggesting for a moment it should be a free-for-all off the tee. But dial it down a little?

‘Rough is there to punish you – so it needs to do just that’

Disclaimer: I spend more time than most in the rough, writes Alex Perry.

There is nothing more frustrating than missing the fairway by a few feet and not being able to locate your ball. I get that. But go way off line and, yes, you should be punished.

Because that’s exactly what rough is meant to be. A punishment.

There should be some respite, sure. I’ve played courses recently with knee-high stuff just inches from the fairway, and it’s frustrating as anything, so there needs to be a middle, slightly fairer ground.

But golf is a game of strategy, and not putting your ball in the rough is an important tactic in this wonderful game of ours.

What are you going to argue next – no water hazards?

Where do you stand on the debate on rough in golf?

Chop it down, or no mercy? Let us know what you think in the comments, or tweet us.

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Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

Alex Perry


Alex has been the editor of National Club Golfer since 2017. A Devonian who enjoys wittering on about his south west roots, Alex moved north to join NCG after more than a decade in London, the last five of which were with ESPN. Away from golf, Alex follows Torquay United and spends too much time playing his PlayStation or his guitar and not enough time practising his short game.

Handicap: 14

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